The Republican Jewish Coalition has issued a statement criticizing President Barack Obama's decision to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson.
Robinson, president of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and was secretary-general of the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa.
"Mary Robinson, who was one of the people responsible for the 2001 Durban conference against racism descending into an anti-Israel propaganda forum, is not an appropriate recipient for one of our nation's highest honors," said Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Executive Director Matt Brooks in the statement.
"In fact, awarding the Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson does great dishonor to the many outstanding men and women who have received it in the past."
The U.S. withdrew from the Durban conference in protest of its staunchly anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic declarations. Secretary of State Colin Powell said at the time: "I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of 'Zionism equals racism'; or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world, Israel, for censure and abuse."
Brooks said, "We're troubled that the White House chooses to minimize the very real controversy about Mary Robinson. It's wrong for the United States to honor someone who led a meeting that our nation boycotted.
"She had the opportunity to fight for good — by resisting the effort to turn the Durban conference into a swamp of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda. She not only failed to resist it, she facilitated it. That President Obama wishes to honor Mary Robinson in this way is profoundly disturbing."
In announcing that Robinson, now a professor at Columbia University, would receive the medal along with 15 others on Aug. 12, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said: "Mary Robinson has dedicated her career to human rights . . . As with any public figure, we don't necessarily agree with every statement she has ever made, but it's clear that she has been an agent of change and a fighter for good."
Past recipients of the Medal of Freedom include Rosa Parks, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Elie Wiesel, Mother Teresa, Simon Wiesenthal, Natan Sharansky, Tony Blair, and Margaret Thatcher.
The RJC statement also noted that in April 2002, Robinson's U.N. commission voted to condone suicide bombings as a legitimate means to establish a Palestinian state.